iPhoto ’09: Fix for JPEG Files Displaying as Pure Black on Edit

I’m sharing this fix with the world, so that others need not live my pain.

Last night, I returned from Lake Tahoe with 451 beautiful shots of our family snow trip, all taken with my Canon 40D SLR.  Each shot was captured in both large format JPG and RAW format.

Unfortunately, after loading all my images into iPhoto ’09, I ran into a real problem:

When I double-clicked any of the JPG files to edit/view them, they displayed a purely black screen.  It was strange because the thumbnails were fine, the RAW files were fine, and when I opened the JPG files in Photoshop CS3, they were fine.

There was no way around it.  Relaunching iPhoto did not help.  Rebuilding the library did not help.  Rebuilding thumbnails did not help.  Reloading the images from the compact flash card did not help.

I shuddered to think about the wisdom of upgrading to iPhoto ’09.  After all, at least iPhoto ’08 could display JPG files.  My only hope: the Canon 40D is a popular camera, and has been out for a while.  This must be a solved issue.

My searches on Google turned up a few articles and discussions, but nothing convincing.  Some threads on the Apple Discussion forums.  A post or two on other Mac sites.

Fortunately, I found the answer.  But let me first tell you what it wasn’t:

  • It wasn’t the PowerPC (I have an Intel-based Mac Pro)
  • It wasn’t file size
  • It wasn’t iPhoto ’09
  • It wasn’t the Canon 40D

Unfortunately, several sites fingered these things as culprits.  All wild goose chases.

Here is what it was:

  • A corrupted install of Mac OS X 10.5.6

Hard to believe, but the auto-update I had done just before leaving for vacation was the culprit.  Thanks to one tip, I downloaded the full combo installer for the Mac OS X 10.5.6 Upgrade from Apple.

A full re-install of the update, a reboot, and all was well.

I hope this tip finds someone out there in good stead.  Seeing your precious photos reduced to a black screen is frightening to the core, even if you know the photo files themselves are not corrupted.

24 thoughts on “iPhoto ’09: Fix for JPEG Files Displaying as Pure Black on Edit

  1. Thanks for your post. I also own a 40D and just purchased an iMac. I updated the system as soon as I got it home and have not even loaded any photos yet but am glad to have read your post.


  2. Hi,
    I tried your solution but it didn’t work for me… I’m wondering if you re-installed a fresh 10.5 before applying the update?
    I have found I can “work around” it by opening my scans in Photoshop and saving with “Progressive” encoding (seems to work reliably so far!); saving from Photoshop with “Baseline” encoding exhibits the problem as well.
    It seems to me to be an iPhoto issue as the “problem” JPEGs display fine in Safari, Preview, Photoshop, … and even in full screen Slideshows in iPhoto!!!
    I am really looking forward to a fix for this!

  3. The black screen in Edit Mode affected a number of my photos. This worked:
    1. Drag thumbnail to desktop to get duplicate
    2. Delete thumbnail in iPhoto.
    3. Drag copy back into iPhoto – restored normal function.

    Note: If this image had already been edited, I would search in the iPhoto files for the original.

  4. Unfortunately, I have tried changing to Progressive and also dragging to desktop but nothing works for me!

    Anyone else with any suggestions? It’s oh so frustrating.
    I was working in Photoshop Elements 4 and it was working the day before but the next day it started to display this black image.

    Any other suggestions from anyone?


  5. Macbook Pro core2 Duo

    The same problem also with movie. I still did not manage to localize & fix it.

    Apple does not give any answers.

  6. iMac 24″ with iPhoto’09 8.1.1 (419) running on OS 10.6.2

    same to us: since we bought the new Nikon D5000 we also got pure black images in edit mode; we are using a shared iPhoto library instead: when user 1 imports JPEGs from Nikon user 2 is not able to edit them (black) – and same verse visa… the older Casio Exilim never got this problem with iPhoto…

    did someone fix this problem meanwhile?

    Thanks for feedback 🙂

    • You folks mentioning which cameras used…forget it. I’ve been having this problem for years and with a multitude of different cameras…it has nothing to do with the camera.

      My problem began when i installed a trial offer of Aperture…what a mistake that was!

  7. Same problem here for one user of a shared library. The main user can display the photos fine, and the other user can see the thumbnails fine, but opening some of the pictures gives a black image. Interestingly, adjusting the window size shows a preview of the picture, but it goes blacks when you stop resizing the window.

  8. The problem seems to be the permissions on the files within the Originals folder of the iPhoto library. To correct this issue, I closed iPhoto from both accounts, then used a terminal window to cd into the newest folder within the Originals folders and list the file permissions. For me this is :
    cd /Shared_iphoto_library/iPhoto Library/Originals/2010/16 Apr 2010
    I then granted rw to the group (staff) for all newly imported photos using chmod g+rw *

    This seems to sort the issue, but will be a real pain if I need to do this after every new import. I’ll see if I can see the permissions on the folder to cascade upon creation of new files.

    • I have just taken delivery of an iMac and iPhoto is doing some weird stuff, I can import my entire photo library from a PC but the thumbnails are blank if sized to anything over a quarter of the slide bar in the bottom corner. So, if the size is small you can see the thumbnails but if you increase the size they go blank, then, all the Events thumbnails are blank, regardless of size and iPhoto crashes every few minutes, but only if the photos are in the library.

      If I create another user the other account gets none of these problems, so it only happens in the Admin account.


  9. For me, the issue was b&w mode for my pictures. I had to open them with photoshop, mode/rgb color and reimport them in iPhoto to save the issue. I have iPhoto 08 and Snow Leopard.

  10. To correct this issue, I closed iPhoto from both accounts, then used a terminal window to cd into the newest folder within the Originals folders and list the file permissions.

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for posting this. I couldn’t work out what was going on with my iphoto and in my google searches, I noticed that you had the same problem. I had just done an automatic software update the day before and the edit part of iphoto kept giving me a black screen. I tried a number of things, then I found and applied your fix and voila, problem solved! It now works.

    Awesome 🙂

  12. There’s one scenario not covered here, which was affecting me and took me forever to figure out.
    If you run a Diamond BVU 195 USB graphics adapter for external monitors, you will never ever be able to see your pictures (at least under current driver). This scenario and a solution for black pictures in iPhoto with external monitors is described in the below link. I hope this might help someone like me, since most discussions only have the standard 3 suggested solutions.

  13. I have a Nikon D-60, and I get black screens in iPhoto after editing. If I revert the picture to the original, then I can see it. I heard that this is a problem because Nikon won’t give Apple their code? Do I need a different camera?

  14. Thank you so much for posting! I was FREAKING OUT that my photos were all lost! I’m going to try this now!! I’m still nervous that somehow they are going to disappear though :/

  15. well u are right .. now i have 10.6.8 .. and i am still facing this issue .. and i just upgraded the version 15 days back … any permanant solution ?

  16. It works for me!! thank you so much for this solution, Lion has it’s installer as well. Thank you again! it was my nightmare!

  17. Thank you so much!! Some of my pics would show up as a black screen with big exclamation mark after editing. Downloading the update for Mac OS X 10.5.6 fixed it for me too. I am SO grateful that you shared this!!

  18. You are a genius! I am by no means a computer person but going to my apple icon, selecting about this mac and software updates fixed my problem with the edit blackout which was a sudden problem on an otherwise wonderful computer. Thanks!

  19. Thank you so much – you have saved me so much time and effort – I updated my version and fixed it!

  20. Partial fix that worked for me (nothing I read here worked):
    iPhoto showed entire events with the blank thumbnail, also others with a visible thumbnail, but when I opened event there was a mix of visible thumbnails and blank ones, with most of the visible ones displaying the black image w/ exclamation mark when I clicked on them.
    The (partial) fix:
    A while ago I placed iPhoto on the sidebar for easy access. Today I removed it from the side bar, and this it what got fixed: Now in SOME of the events that had a blank thumbnail, SOME of the blank thumbnails in it remain invisible but when clicked they display the original image.
    For someone managing albums with thousands of pics, about many trips, this is some progress.

    But Mac HAS to solve this, as it is still a pain in the neck to guess which ones were recovered.

  21. Pingback: iPhoto - images go black full-size , but thumbnails are fine!

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